Remembering Brian Bannister: I Should Have Loved Him More

I never appreciated Brian Bannister enough.

I'm essentially a joyless contrarian bastard and for that reason, I never really rode the wave of Brian Bannister love that crested in 2008-09. And really, that was the wrong response.

Brian Bannister posted a 3.87 ERA in 2007, his first season with the Royals. It wasn't quite a full season's worth of work, but it wasn't five starts either. Banny pitched 165 innings that season, making 27 starts. 2007... it seems so long ago. That was the first full season of the Moore Era, and we were all evaluating the new boss for the first time. That was the magical first Gil Meche campaign, the year that Kyle Davies arrived, the year Soria arrived, the year that the bullpen was somewhat competent for the first time since 2003... say what you will about Moore, he knows pitching.

So before all the saber-stuff with Banny started, that was the meme that he was attached to. Dayton Moore and his guys have an eye for pitchers.

So Brian Bannister only struck out 4.2 batters per nine in 2007. Thanks to a .262 BABIP, amongst other things, Banny was able to not only survive but thrive. And, well, this was pointed out. The argument was essentially a sabermetric one, but it was one that mirrored an old-school way of thinking. You can say that eventually a guy's luck on balls in play won't last, or you can say that a guy without stuff will eventually get hit hard. In the end, it's just different ways of describing the same thing.

Now, the amazing thing is, Banny talked about this, and talked about it from the saber perspective. Because I'm a contrarian bastard, who has to always go against the grain, it was legitimately remarkable how Banny handled it. For one, he was honest and self-critical and even too honest about himself. How often do we get that from a jock? I can't think of another instance. Maybe Dutton and Mellinger and the guys around the team would know of more examples, with off-the-record stuff especially, but this wasn't like that. Banny was open about it. He knew about it and would talk about it.

He also tried to adjust. Another surprisingly cool thing.

Over the next three seasons, Bannister consciously worked to strike more guys out. His K/9 went to 5.6 in 2008, then 5.7 in 2009. The walks, however, also went up, and when the hits-luck evened out (or just stopped happening, more accurately) we were left with a mostly ineffective pitcher. And that's more or less the end of the story.

Still, Banny kept chugging along. Alright, that's not a good phrase. Bannister was paid well to play baseball, so it isn't exactly like he was slogging away waiting tables. He ended up making 108 starts for the Royals over four seasons. (Banny is surprisingly 16th in team history in starts made, wedged between the cursed Jose Rosado and Bud Black.) In the end, he was a player for our baseball team for a number of years. He was, truly, an established Royal.

And Banny's quotes kept getting better, he probably introduced more people around Kansas City to advanced pitching stats than Bill James ever did. He also talked about Pitch f/x. Because I'm a contrarian bastard, I never fully let myself enjoy just how cool this was. Because, really, it was.

Maybe, at some unspoken level, there was something awkward about Bannister and the saber stuff. Maybe, in some self-hating way, I was a little embarrassed to hear Banny talk about FIP. That was part of my little nerd world, and the athletes were not really a part of it. They were supposed to be off living in their bodies, sleeping with beautiful women, being rich and being a little dumb and aloof. I don't know... maybe it was almost Seinfield worlds-colliding theory. Or, maybe, it was just my complicated relationship to the writing of Joe Posnanski. Maybe it was the Banny Logs that made he a joyless non-fan.

So now, I know I'm going to miss Bannister. I'm going to miss his honesty, his self-awareness, his willingness to experiment. In a world of guys with stuff seemingly blindly going out there start after start, hoping something "clicks" Bannister was the opposite.

He was a Royal, for four years. He looked at baseball in ways that we do. He tried to improve and change and didn't do so merely by falling into the accepted modes of sports pysch or the like. I'll miss him.

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